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A Report on Poverty-Fueled Trafficking of Women and Girls

Aired October 23, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, wives bought and sold like cattle. What can be done to stop it?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to the program.

It's a form of slavery that dates back through the ages and continues to this day in some parts of the world: women and girls used as currency. When there's drought and times are really hard, they're sold off to raise money for impoverished families, forcing thousands into lives of sexual exploitation and misery.

First, we have this special report from CNN's Sara Sidner in central India.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The fields, the cattle, the farm equipment of ancient times. This is rural India. The harvest determines feast or famine here, and so much more.

Drought, debt and desperation have pushed people to extremes in this north-central Indian region. To survive the bad years, some farmers turn to the Paisawalla, Hindi for "rich man who lends money." But the high- interest loans mount up, and the lenders demand payment.

(on-screen): Because of years of poor harvest in this district, some farmers say they're being forced to pay their debts with whatever the lenders ask for, including their wives.

Do money lenders consider wives possessions to be bought and sold?

"Yes," she said, "It happens sometimes when somebody borrows money."

Did the money lender buy you?

"He did buy me. That's why he told me he bought me," she says.

(voice-over): For 30 days, she says, the rich man forced her to live with him. When she finally did reach police, she told them her husband had sold her. Then her case drew public attention. She retracted her report, and her husband has taken her back.

Social scientist Ranjana Kumari says exploitation of women is common here and so is the result when a woman gets the nerve to file a case.

DR. RANJANA KUMARI, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SOCIAL RESEARCH: Nobody is going to support and help them if family decides not to help them. The system is already not so sensitized towards them, whether it is police, judiciary, whether the legal system. So the women themselves tend to withdraw these cases.

SIDNER: In another village, another farmer, another money lender.

"I sold my water engine and land and gave back his 30,000 rupees." This farmer says the lender then asked that he send his wife to help with chores while the lender's wife was sick. He sent her, and his children went, too, but the mother never returned. He says she was stolen from him.

State authorities say their new investigation found the mother does not want to return and left on her own to be with her lover. But the daughter, who says she lived with the lender and her mother, had a different story.

(on-screen): Why did the money lender take your mom away? What did he tell you?

(voice-over): "He said there was still some money owed and took my mom." The daughter also says she and her dad were told to keep quiet by some of the village leaders.

While we visited, officials with the state magistrate's office pushed open the door of the farmer's house and started videotaping our interview.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your name?

SIDNER (on-screen): Sara.


SIDNER: And why are you taking this information?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jena (ph)? Jena (ph)? Jena (ph)?

SIDNER: Why are you taking this information?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know.

SIDNER (voice-over): That case aside, this government report says the region is prone to what it called atrocities against women, including buying and selling them. Social workers say this isn't just about poverty, this also says a lot about the low social status of women in these parts.

DR. RANJANA KUMARI: Those women are very vulnerable to all kinds of physical and sexual exploitation. And, also, there is much higher level of violence against women in that area.

SIDNER: The government and charities have been trying to help, but the status of women and girls -- often illiterate and seen as a financial burden -- remains low. Fourteen years ago, this woman says she was sold to her husband by her own parents for the equivalent of $200.

"My mother and father got 10,000 rupees. That's why they sold me," she says. She was just 12 and never considered going to authorities because she says she had nowhere else to go. She accepted it as her destiny.

With another severe drought this year, activists say more women and families may be traded off for their labor as they struggle to pay back the Paisawalla.


SIDNER: We talked to dozens of villagers, we talked to people from the government, as well as sociologists, and no one knows exactly how prevalent this might be, but certainly it is not unheard of here -- Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Sara, not unheard of, and yet these state authorities burst in on your interview. What were they trying to get? They kept saying, "We want to know who you are." But why?

SIDNER: You know, there is an issue going on here, and it's a political one. This is extremely embarrassing, especially to the local and state government.

As you know, about 60 percent of the population lives off the land. Farmers are a huge voting block. They are very important to India. One of the ways people identify India is with farmers.

And so to have this happening, the politicians are afraid that they will be blamed for not having enough development, for example, in the area and perhaps not helping enough so that farmers are not faced with this sort of decision that they have to make -- Christiane?

AMANPOUR: And a little bit of quick sorted question. India is unique for being -- a woman president. The leader of the opposition is a woman. The speaker of the parliament is a woman, in many ways much more represented by woman than we in the West, and yet this goes on. Is there no sort of gender power there?

SIDNER: There is absolutely gender power, and that's the thing about India. With a billion people in this country, more than a billion, you see such contradictions here, very vast disparities.

On the one hand, like you mentioned, there are so many women that hold very large amounts of power here. But yet, as one sociologist called it, the real India, where millions of women live, they are still really under the thumb of men who make all of the major decisions, both politically and socially -- Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Is there any idea, any thought that there might be some legislation, something to prevent these men from selling off their wives?

SIDNER: Well, what's interesting here is there are laws in place. India has a lot of laws. The problem is making sure that those laws are followed and following through with programs to help people understand and how to get out of this sort of situation, how to get out of poverty, how to move on. And that goes back to development; that goes back to education.

There are programs in place. And over the years, things are changing here, but they're changing very slowly in places where, for example, caste is followed very strictly and where poverty is rampant -- Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Sara, thank you so much for that report.

And in a moment, a glimpse of the terrible fate of women who are sold into sexual slavery and an earlier conversation I had with two women are fighting to end this multi-billion-dollar global sex trade. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): How much money do you want for your daughter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): One hundred and fifty thousand rupees.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): You're joking. Did you say hundreds of thousands? You must mean thousands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes, 1,500.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): OK. We'll give you the money. Now, can we take her to Bombay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Will you be able to do whatever is asked of you, any job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Tell her yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Do you want to go to Bombay?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Do you know what to expect in Bombay?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I haven't seen it, so I don't know.


AMANPOUR: That was a scene filmed in Nepal in the startling documentary, "Selling of Innocents." It shows that the problem of human trafficking extends across borders.

And joining me now live here in the studio, the filmmaker behind the documentary, Ruchira Gupta. She's founder of Apne Aap, an organization that helps victims.

And also here, Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of Equality Now. She's pushing for much tougher anti-trafficking laws.

So welcome, both of you, to the program. Let me ask you, Ruchira, you were posing as a trafficker in that scene.

RUCHIRA GUPTA, FILMMAKER AND ACTIVIST: That's right. I wanted to show how easy it was and how anyone could go into a village in Nepal or India and look around to buy a girl, and somebody would show up to sell the girl, and the girl had no idea about her rights, and for as little as $50 could buy her and do whatever they wanted with her.

AMANPOUR: And it was making that film that turned you into an activist for these -- against this -- this situation?

GUPTA: It was a life-changing experience for me, because as a journalist I'd covered war, famine, conflict, hunger, but I had never seen the deliberate exploitation of one human being by another as I saw in a brothel in Bombay, when I walked into a little room which was four-by-four and saw the 10-year-old and the 12-year-olds sitting on the bed.

AMANPOUR: Ten and twelve?

GUPTA: Yes, and 10 or 15 customers a night...

AMANPOUR: Ten or fifteen customers for 10-year-old girls?

GUPTA: Raped repeatedly every night.

AMANPOUR: How many girls and women does this affect?

GUPTA: According to the government of India, just recently in May, they said 1.3 million children are sold into prostitution in India right now. And there are 1.3 million prostituted children in our country right this second.

AMANPOUR: What does Apne Aap, your organization, do? What does it stand for, first of all?

GUPTA: Apne Aap means self-help in Hindi, and we believe in organizing women and girls to rescue each other. So we work inside red light areas and slums. We form small groups of women to help them find other livelihood options. And we also get their daughters into school by helping the women empower themselves inside these small groups.

AMANPOUR: Taina, it sounds easy. Get the girls, re-educate, liberate them from this bondage. Is it easy?

TAINA BIEN-AIME, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EQUALITY NOW: It's never easy. Actually, on all the issues on which Equality now works, which is all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world, we believe that sex trafficking will get worse before it gets better.

Ruchira is highlighting the case in India, but this is a worldwide problem. There's not one country in the world that's not either a source, transit or destination country for human trafficking.

AMANPOUR: Where is some of the worst?

BIEN-AIME: Where is some of the worst? I mean, you know, in every country, in this country, in the United States, we don't even know how many children are being domestically trafficked for sexual servitude in this country. The numbers range between 300,000 to 700,000.

So the -- the phenomenon is a global phenomenon. Governments are grappling with the issue. They're even starting to -- I mean, the -- they're just starting to understand what the concept of human trafficking is.

AMANPOUR: What I don't understand is that this has actually been going on for a while. I've done reports on trafficking in -- in the last 10 years in Eastern Europe, where, as you said, there are entire villages which don't have certain ages of girls, right?

BIEN-AIME: Yes, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: And what I don't understand is even people as prominent as Hillary Clinton, now secretary of state, are talking against it, people as powerful as Oprah Winfrey takes up this cause, and yet is anything really being done? Let me just play what Hillary Clinton has said on this issue.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Trafficking thrives in the shadows. And it can be easy to dismiss it as something that happens to someone else somewhere else. But that's not the case. Trafficking is a crime that involves every nation on Earth, and that includes our own.


AMANPOUR: So if it's a crime, who are the main criminals?

BIEN-AIME: It could be anyone. It could be organized networks. It could be a mom-and-pop trafficking women and girls on Craigslist. And -- and we really value the -- the work of -- of -- of Hillary Clinton. However, it's not really something that happens in the shadows. There's government corruption involved. There's lack of law enforcement. There's lack of political will to really address the issue of human trafficking.

AMANPOUR: Ruchira -- go ahead.

GUPTA: Also, the main criminals, I think, are the end users, the buyers of prostituted sex, who want the little girls, and because of which the traffickers and the organized criminal networks see that there's profit in it and they go into poor villages to find these girls, either in Eastern Europe or India. So the real criminals are those who create a demand for these little girls.

AMANPOUR: As we just get the -- the map of India up, I just want to ask you. This is something that law enforcement seems not to have got a grip with, because they always prosecute the prostitutes.

BIEN-AIME: That's right.

AMANPOUR: How to get them to prosecute the users, the buyers, the traffickers?

GUPTA: Two ways. Apne Aap has been campaigning to change the Indian law to punish buyers of prosecuted sex more severely and also traffickers who are making a profit off the sale and purchase of girls, women, men and boys. And we are also trying to get the law changed so it does not punish women for a crime they never committed. They were the victims, and now they're survivors. So...

AMANPOUR: Has any progress been made in India?

GUPTA: We've been lobbying for the change in law for three years. And the biggest obstacle we are facing is from some of the AIDS management agencies who want the brothels to exist so that they can distribute condoms inside. And I've been facing this -- and they want to protect buyers of prostituted sex from disease rather than protecting the women and girls from buyers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lakshmi (ph) is now too ill to entertain customers. She has been told she has T.B. She thinks she has AIDS. Lakshmi (ph) trusts that her old friend, Vinman (ph), will help her, but Vinman (ph) knows that soon she, too, will be too tired and too old to attract customers. After 15 years in the brothels, Lakshmi (ph) is dying.


AMANPOUR: On this issue, has AIDS made younger girls more vulnerable, as men seem to think that younger girls will not infect them?

GUPTA: Absolutely. It's created a new demand, because now men are saying that they want disease-free, young, virgin girls, and so traffickers are on the prowl in the villages looking for new girls to kidnap, seduce, trick, force, coerce.

AMANPOUR: We've got this map of India up, and I just want to show this highlighted area here, which is where this story that Sara Sidner, our reporter, told us that farmers who are desperate are now basically handing over their daughters. Describe for me a little bit of the Inhira (ph) problem right here.

GUPTA: This is an area of India which is agricultural. And it's -- the agriculture there is based on the monsoon. And when the rains come, then they have a good bumper crop, and they can live off that. When there are no rains, there's drought, and farmers then get into debt by taking money from money-lenders to -- to go over the season of drought.

This time round, money-lenders are saying, if you don't have money, give us your daughters or your mothers or your wives or your sisters. And farmers are doing so, and it's become like a chronic problem, and it's manifested in Buldakand (ph), the area of India that you're seeing on the map, but the normalization of buying and selling of girls has extended in such a big way in India that now even poor farmers and farmers' daughters are available for sale.

AMANPOUR: It used to be that farmers basically committed suicide when they were in dire straits, and now they're turning to their girls and wives and sisters, as you say, as collateral.

GUPTA: Absolutely. And it may happen that, even after that, they may still commit suicide, because even after selling a wife or a daughter or, you know, mother, they may still be at the mercy of the money-lender.

AMANPOUR: This is a disaster. I mean, just the way you're describing it is -- is absolutely incredible, almost unbelievable. What can be done really, beyond raising awareness? I mean, awareness has been raised. You've got the secretary of state of the United States, one of the most powerful diplomats in the world, saying that this needs to be controlled. How really can it be done? Are the people that you're engaging with serious about doing something?

BIEN-AIME: Well, there are a number of things. As Ruchira said, one, we need strong laws. I mean, even here in New York state, we have the strongest state anti-trafficking legislation, but, again, no political will to enforce it.

Number two, we really need to address the commercial sex trade. The availability of women for purchase is something that we need to address nationally and internationally. Women are not for sale. They're not for sale in brothels; they're not for sale at the Mayflower Hotel; they're not for sale on the streets.

Number three is we really need to build an international network of survivors' voices. They're the ones who are going to come forth and give us the best solutions.

AMANPOUR: Let's -- let's be brutally frank. Prostitution has been around since the beginning of time. What is the major difference now? Is it the fact that the girls are younger and younger? Is it the fact that girls are being sold off? What can -- what part of this prostitution or trafficking can you really try to grab and make a difference with?

BIEN-AIME: First of all, prostitution has not been around for -- for -- from time immemorial. Pimping has; the exploitation of women for profit has existed from the beginning of time. The commercial sex trade and the exploitation is a form of gender-based violence and discrimination. And, again, I think it's -- it's -- it's a collective effort.

First, we have to realize what the issue is, which is the first ingredient in any sort of work that we're doing on -- on social justice, is raising awareness, number one, and also taking responsibility through laws, through action, and -- and -- and participation of not only law enforcement legislators, but also the everyday person who can grasp the issue that the -- the people who find themselves in the commercial sex trade are the most vulnerable people on the planet, disenfranchised, minority women in India. It is Dalit women or women from the so-called lower caste.

AMANPOUR: Untouchables, yes.

BIEN-AIME: Exactly. Here it would be women of color, girls of color. So...


BIEN-AIME: ... those are the issues.

AMANPOUR: In India, again, I'm trying to see whether in this huge global problem that is prostitution, is it possible to maybe have a bigger impact by focusing just on the youngest kids first, as a way to -- as a way to start this?

GUPTA: Of course. You know, anyone's heart bleeds when they know a 7-year-old is in a brothel, but what I've noticed is that, because we sort of accepted the prostitution of adult women, slowly our threshold changed, and from adults, it went down to the 17-year-old, the 15-year-old, the 13-, and now the 7-. So, in fact, the acceptance of the prostitution of anyone who is female affects us all.

So I think where we really have to focus on to turn this thing around, where prostitution has become so normalized that it's leading to trafficking and transport of girls from one place to another just for this purpose, is that we have to really go for laws where we can go after the demand for prostitution. And once we start dismantling that and spread the message that cool men don't buy sex -- you know, it's all right to have sex, but build a relationship with the person you want to have sex with -- then maybe we can start turning things around.

AMANPOUR: Is there one memory, one incident, one discovery that you made that stands out amongst all others?

GUPTA: Yes. There's a little girl called Nena (ph) that we rescued from a brothel a couple of years ago. And she was born in the brothel. She was prostituted when she was 12 or 13, raped repeatedly, deprived of food, forced to become dependent on drugs and alcohol. And today, after the rescue, she knows two languages, how to read and write in two languages, is starting to be a videographer, and is changing her life around.

And the one thing she asked me after she began to study is that, as long as there are buyers, you know, there will be other little girls like me at risk, so is there nothing that we can do to go after the buyers?

AMANPOUR: And one last question for you. Are there young girls who are fighting against this and winning this battle on case-by-case...

BIEN-AIME: Absolutely. I mean, Equality Now has been working with grassroots organizations around the world who are amazing human rights activists who are -- who are raising hell about this issue. And I think these are the voices that we really need to pay attention to and give support to.

AMANPOUR: Taina, Ruchira, thank you for raising hell.

BIEN-AIME: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And we'll continue to watch this and monitor it closely.

And next, another unique film from India. This is different, though. This is about the joy of dancing.


AMANPOUR: And now for our "P.S.," our "Post-Script."

Tonight, we have another edition of our global dispatch, a short film from our friends at the Pangea Film Festival. It's also about India, but from a very different angle. It's about the joy of dancing, and it's shot with a cell phone camera.

And that film is by director Sumit Roy (ph). We'd love to hear from you, so please send us your videos. You can find out more on our Web site,, in our global dispatch section. That's it for now. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.